Hot Cocoa On The Road

Grab someone in the room and read this out loud.

Trust me.

How to make Ducky’s “Hot Cocoa On The Road”

Necessary items:

Small camp stove

Brown Sugar



Sugar in the raw

Goat’s milk

Unsweetened cocoa



Excellent animal identification skills

Foul language

Just a few quick and easy steps!

First, lay out the ingredients in the order you fantasize you will be using them in. Light the camp stove’s burner and put the kettle on. Pour small ammt. of milk or cream into a mug. (About a fifth or so.)

Relight burner due to wind.

Second step: Go chase the Stellar’s Jay away from the opposite end of the table. This usually involves waving a dishtowel and yelling. Upon success, drop dishtowel triumphantly without realizing it’s landed into a bit of this morning’s oatmeal.

Return to stove, relight burner due to wind.

Third step: pour a small amount of salt into the milk. Stop to chase after a squirrel who is making off with the dishrag that now smells enticingly like Apples & Cinnamon. Retrieve towel, glare at squirre l, throw it into soapy water. (The towel that is, not the squirrel. Park service doesn’t really go for that kind of thing.)

Return to stove, curse, relight burner due to wind.

Fourth step: Realize one or more of the items above is missing. Turn the burner off, fetch item(s), return to table, relight burner and discover (The Damn) wind has deposited pine needles in cup. Pour milk and foliage out, restore original settings, and COVER THE FREAKING MUG.

Return to stove, curse, contemplate getting cheap swiss miss packets next grocery run, relight burner due to wind.

Burner goes out immediately.

Relight. With prayer this time.

Flames start to waver.

Stand while desperately cupping hands around the HOT burner in attempt to keep it lit.


Give up on prayer and go back to cursing.

Fifth (?) step: Have a “Really Good Idea.” Grab two large water containers and the cooler strategically placing them in a protective barrier around the burner and kettle. Use your body for the fourth point and stand in a sentinel position until the water boils.  When it does boil, do a happy dance with a battle cry while flipping off the sky. Lose three dishtowels to a sudden gust of wind.


Fifth step, (pt.2): Pick up muddy dishtowels and plop them next to the fire to dry (or burn up. Whatever, at this point.) Run back and quickly add salt, (measurements? You think we use MEASUREMENTS? *hysterical laughter*) somewhere between ½ teaspoon or ½ a tablespoon, depending on how upset you are at this point.

Sixth step: Pour boiling water in. Nearly burn yourself realizing that one of the dishtowels was to be used for the kettle. Run and get a dishtowel from area next to firepit, shake off ash frantically while running back to table.

Realize ash has fallen in the cup. Decide it’s either fiber or protein and proceed.

Seventh, eighth, and ninth steps: Add about a tablespoon of hot cocoa. Actually less. Okay, truthfully I’ve no idea; we use an old Menchies’ FroYo spoon so whatever one of those heaped comes to.

Start stirring frantically.

If the cocoa starts to blend, add cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and splenda. If not keep stirring while swearing and attempting to open the brown sugar one handed.

Note: opening things one handed never goes well.

Tenth step: Finish hot cocoa and look at the mess that was once the table. Add any of the ingredients that you have no doubt forgotten. Wonder if the “no crumb” #Fail you have accomplished is enough to get you banned from your beloved state parks.

Call out in your cheeriest voice, “Ducky! Hot Cocoa’s ready!”

Try not to kill offspring when he says, “I think this need more sweetener. It’s also a little cold. Do we have any whipped cream?”

Quietly chant to self, “I love camping, I love camping, I love camping…”


Day 63- Clean Up Your Mess!

So now that we have added a gargantuan, clumsy and randomly smelly teenager into the mix, ( I love you CJ!) it has become even more imperative to have a strong set of rules in place. This is necessary to see that Asterix doesn’t go from feeling like a cozy little home and conveyance into a cell on wheels trapping and dragging all on board into the depths of hell.

In other words I’d rather not drive a moldy, sandy, sticky mess of random leftovers from wandering all over hill and dale and apparent chewing gum factories.

This sign is now taped to one of the cabinet shelves:


  1. Is EVERYTHING in its place?
  2. All cabinets locked and closed?
  3. All loose articles of paper, clothing, maps & random junk stowed away? (I will start throwing shit out.)
  4. Are there any items that need special attention? (Eg. wet items, messy drawers that items were shoved into instead of neatly folded, filthy shoes, anything stinky, sticky or otherwise.…)
  5. Does it smell nice? We own two HUGE bottles of Febreeze for a reason!
  6. Pick that thing up!
  7. That one too!
  8. I mean it!!

A day after sharing these rules yesterday, I came out after the boys “secured the rig” to find approximately 3 reams worth of paper scattered, 15 maps left all over the front, wrappers from forbidden foods, enough sand to repopulate a whole beach and a certain odor of indeterminate origin that smelled like a cross between peanut butter, mildew and beer.

I took one look, (and whiff,) slammed the doors shut, came back into the motel room and in varying levels of pissed off vocals let them know about my mild disappointment. I then went and locked myself in the bathroom after hissing at them that “this shit had better get fixed.”

It was either that or to simply drive off and leave them in the room for an hour or two which also seemed like a totally reasonable response at the time.

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in four days at this point and am Beyond Cranky. I had already warned the boys the night before that the list was up, needed to be followed and I really, truly, desperately needed them to be at the top of their game.

I’m not sure why I’m so rarely able to accept shortcomings from my children without feeling like the Wrath of Mom MMXVI but damn, I go from reasonable human being to rabid lunatic within seconds when they mess up lately.

I know that things are not aided by the fact that one of our most recent adventures had us camping in a spot where the mosquito tribe had declared war on us and our delicate netting didn’t stand a chance. The A/C was also broken and without a generator we tried to sleep with the doors all flung open which did jack shit for the temp. It was soon 100 in the van and 95% humidity. There were tears. Finally we decided to make the tent. It was thundering. CJ took one look at the size of the thing and offered to go back into the rig.

The rest of the night was punctuated with random screaming and yelling while the war in the van intensified. Ducky crashed out while I nervously watched the lighting turn our tent varying shades of orange and wondered if the rain flap was going to hold up. Or the tent itself for that matter. I was angrily thinking to the future me that was going to find this a “great memory” to go jump off a cliff.

The next morning CJ’s war results were found in the form of dozens of tiny, bloody, squashed bodies all over the ceiling. But judging by the bites all over his feet and legs I’d say it was a draw.

He also said that he was telling his future self to go die in a fire. Yup, definitely my kid.

The three of us resembled national geographic pox victims, our legs and arms (and in Ducky’s case, tummy, back and face) covered to the point that there were more bites than skin. Top this off with the fact that we nearly all had terrible sunburns…

Yeah, not such a great night.

But the day before had been magical. We had reached the Atlantic and were playing in the waves, accompanied by millions of tiny fish and one intrepid little sting ray.

There were dolphins, crabs, and new birds along with blisteringly hot white sand to run across. We had nummy snacks and the dog stole some meat and cheese and didn’t look the least bit repentant. We laughed and played and feasted and rejoiced.

We clung to the memory of that day when dealing with the aftereffects of the night. I asked the boys the next day while coating everyone in calamine lotion if they were able to balance out the memories. “I think so.” Said one. “Yes!” said the other.

“What about you, Mom?”

Oh. That’s right. Me.

“I can still hear the waves crashing on the shore. I can remember the feeling of the swells lifting up my body and taste the sea-salt on my lips. I remember how you two laughed and played together as if all alone on the busy (but not quite crowded shore.) I told someone recently that our trip seems to be 85% trials and tribulations, 10% good days and 5% moments of earth-shattering glory. I think it was one of those 5% days. What about you?”

This time they both said Yes.


Day 55

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and surprisingly not stressed out, considering it was well after when I’d hoped to leave. I was realizing that my body’s demand for sleep clearly outweighed any need to get on the road quickly. This calm moment of zen lasted approximately three minutes, when I discovered that my phone was dead. Completely and utterly non-responsive. I had plugged it in all night but it was gone. I tried two other outlets and had no luck in getting a “okay, I’ll charge now” symbol. Going out to the van I tried one last time to no avail and then started quietly catastrophizing. Walking around flapping from these experiences, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that the huge bag of “dry” clothes the kids had brought back from the laundry room last night were still wet.  

My moment of serenity was rapidly changing to borderline psychosis.

There was one goal for today. One. “We are going to see the Atlantic to make our ‘cross-country’ tagline official!’ I had said cheerily when picking CJ up. Oh yes; CJ. Those of you who are following our Twitter and Facebook have no doubt noticed a sudden addition to our little team, my 16 year old has joined us and will be along for the return leg to California. Say hello CJ!

“Are we there yet?”

Well, isn’t this going to be fun.

Anywho, after getting on the road about five hours later than expected we ended up fielding gas stations without power, misdirections, (twice,) and at some point my phone started charging again very very very slooooowwly. Ick.

We finally found Virgina Beach on the map and I realized that I wasn’t quite all that safe to drive. Like shaking and blurry-eyed and exhausted. The perfect time to go through a several mile long tunnel and across several bridges over bays we couldn’t name. There were two accidents and during the stop-and-go Asterix* (We finally named the damn van,) let us know that she was PISSED.

We ended up running the heater for the last six miles.


I didn’t know Virginia Beach was on an island.

Where I grew up and island was something seen off the coast in the distance that one only got to see if a boat was acquired and loins girded. Santa Barbara’s channel has been called one of the roughest in the world and though there are many lovely pleasant days out on the water, there are more of the, “Hey, do you get seasick?” variety.

So we’re now on the island in a KOA the size of Disneyland with humidity so strong I feel like I’m taking a spit shower from God. Gross.

I have read the riot act to the boys about getting to bed early, and am teaching them Seven Dragons.

The dog just walked through the game.

Time for bed.


Day 38

On the convenience of beauty.

During my last breakdown (the van, not my psyche) I had the epiphany that 20 years ago, were I stuck in traffic in the middle of the road, there would be no question about receiving help from passing motorists. I would merely have had to exit my vehicle. Picture it; long hair flowing, makeup on fleek, the figure of a typical young goddess and likely with a bit of leg/cleavage showing.  I would have been immediately aided by every straight male within eyesight.

Now short-haired, makeup abandoned due to no A/C, my skin having deciding the best reaction to heat and stress is to rash out on me, (mostly on my once prized legs,) my figure is a bit rotund and any cleavage showing is usually by mistake.

Things have definitely changed.

I honestly like myself better now than I did back then. My self-esteem and confidence have risen to the point where I am very comfortable going out and being myself during the day to day. But I must say, I miss the convenience of beauty. The ability to take for granted the fact that people would be helpful when I needed it. The lack of fear of running into problems because of the nearly subconscious expectation of the knight/damsel response.

This came strongly into focus when I broke down in an intersection and hopped out to push my van after throwing her in neutral. Now granted, I didn’t emerge from my vehicle looking like a flowery helpless waif. There was no waffling, no tears, and certainly no size six making me look about 17 years old. Nope. There was 160lb woman wearing a trucker’s cap, busting out screaming “Goddamit!” while kicking the van and cussing more for good measure.

Now that I think about it, maybe the many men sitting around in pickup trucks were too scared to get out and help.

Or maybe the “help the lady out” relex only occurs when the heat index is below 90 degrees (it was over 100, after all.)

Once I finally was able to maneuver my ¾ ton vehicle over to the gas station, it occurred to me to take stock. Maybe a little lipstick? Perhaps jeans to cover the rash? Maybe a wig? A part of me sat back and judged these thoughts with scorn, “What kind of a feminist ARE you??” Another part was realistic, “We’ve read about this countless times, from all kinds of women across cultures and timelines. This is nothing new.” A third part of me was pretty much thinking, “Would you two just shut up? I’m dealing with a mechanical crisis right now and don’t have time for this.”

I’m not sure when I hit the other side. I saw it coming, and am not sure when I arrived. At some point I think it will flip back, perhaps when my hair goes white.  Then I will again hear the, “…need a little help there, Ma’am?” The Ma’am of course replacing the Miss that would have been there before.

Until then, I’m gonna have to work this out.

It was convenient, dammit. It was useful, and finding it suddenly gone is like reaching into your toolkit for something you know you had and discovering not only do you not have one anymore, they’ve stopped making them.

At our last KOA I saw a woman frantically applying makeup in the bathroom. She was a mother travelling with three young children by herself. I smiled at her broadly, admiring her determination to get her full face on when I had just decided to skip the routine again.

Glancing back at her, it struck me that she would still get the response I hadn’t. Her long blond hair, legs up to there, and perfect figure would likely aid her far more than AAA ever could.

I expected this thought to arrive with some jealousy but was met with merely amusement, like knowing a secret that you really can’t share yet.

So here’s to the women on both sides of this reality. I love you all and celebrate all of our beauty.


(While missing the damn convenient kind.)


Day 24


Ducky and I have been cramming like a pair of chronically last minute students the night before the big test. Forced to buckle down due to extenuating circumstances we are pleased to announce, “Houston, we have a route!”

It was a fairly simple process. We opened the Atlas. At last. It’s been sitting all shiny and new in the van for several days looking like a wallflower at the big dance; all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Running our fingers along the bottom of the U.S. section, we came up with a list of states we will need to traverse. “Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina*, North Carolina, Virginia*, Maryland.” We chanted these in a sing-song, revelling in familiar yet strange names.

“Okay Ducky. We have 28 days to get to Centreville Virginia. The maps say that’s about 2800 miles. I’m planning for 3500 miles to provide extra time for Shiny & Squirrel. How many miles a day MINIMUM does that come out to? I don’t want to drive more than 6 hours a day if possible.”

Ducky, “HUH?”

“Get the calculator.”


A few moments later…

“Okay mom, it looks like we would have to go about 125 miles a day or two hours or so to get there. I have no idea how to calculate for 6 hours a day though. Why six hours a day? Will we still go to the Grand Canyon? What is in New Orleans? How will we…”

“Please. Stop.”


So, now to the nitty-gritty. Clearly we aren’t going to podunk along, taking our sweet time everywhere, especially because we want to be able to spend time in various locations with our friends who are hopefully still eagerly awaiting us. (As opposed to having given up on us all together. Did I mention I thought we’d be in Texas by now? Sorry y’all.)

Obviously some choices are going to have to be made. I am saddened to think that possibly cool areas will sped past as if hordes of zombies were the local attractions as opposed to huge balls of string or actual, giant forks on the road.

But since we have places to go and people to see, I know we will find a certain degree of balance if not a true happy medium.

Tonight we will be spending our final evening in Ramona, (our friends coincidentally making my favorite dish,) and heading to Yuma. I am excited and nervous (my usual combo) while looking very much forward to Ducky see a sign welcoming him to a new state for the first time.

See you on the flipside!


Day 21

The heat shimmers out the window are starting to look like migraine auras. The stillness of the lifeless air seems to be stealing my ability to breathe. I am lightheaded and faint and wondering how any life can survive in deserts where the highs are in the twenties as opposed to “just” the tens and teens.

My lips are chapped and feel like they are bleeding out salt. The skin on my feet is actually cracking and I have little sharp pains when I take steps. I am frustrated beyond all measure that matter how much lotion I slather on, my skin can’t seem to get enough. My dried out, moisture-starved body is desperately crying out for relief and I’m about to join it, squalling like a baby wanting a cool drink.

As I write, I can feel one brave and tiny droplet of sweat attempting to fall down my neck. It’s hovering there as if afraid to fall and experience the instant evaporation that has made it’s job impossible. I feel like there is a fire imp dancing around me while calling out, “There is no cooling off. No matter how much water you drink, no matter how much fanning you do. You will not escape.”

I don’t do heat.

I’ve always been sensitive to high temperatures and am wondering once again about the wisdom of taking the road trip during summer. I keep telling myself, this was a choice. A choice to travel in search of work, a choice not to go to a homeless shelter or endlessly couch surf, a choice to try to work in a road trip with a search for a better life.

However, with my jaw throbbing with a toothache, my head aching with heat and struggling through an appalling lack of sleep, I am filled with woe and doubt.

The thermometer says it’s 106 and I want to scream, “It’s at least ten degrees hotter!”

This doesn’t feel real. I grew up in an oceanside town where I could hear the waves from our bathroom at night. The cool enveloping fog was ever present, even during the so-called summer when tourists ended up buying sweaters emblazoned with “Beautiful Santa Barbara.” We would laugh at them while secretly envying their ability to come and then go on to other places.

I suppose my itchy feet stem from that time, watching the visitors come and go, and wondering what that must be like, having money to see new places.

Speaking of travelling, after leaving Hesperia, we are on to Ramona, CA where temperatures are expected to be parallel to the same depths of hell they are currently replicating here. After a brief stay in San Diego County, we will head into the inferno that is Arizona. I have fantasies of fainting on the 4th of July and being permanently put on ice.

I think we might spend a little time in Oceanside to get the last gasp of the ocean breeze I grew up with. I feel like saying goodbye. Or yell and throw things while crying. You know, one of those.


I will abide. I will not weep, I will try still more lotion, apply my lip balm and drink my fourth jug of water. I was not made for heat, nor it for me, but while we are forced to be together I will find patience and forbearance and hopefully respite, eventually.

Glad you’re with me for the journey. (Also if you are someplace temperate I hope you will take a moment to appreciate it.)


Day (1)

The past 72 hours have reminded me of being in labor.  You know, bringing a new life into the world while cursing, screaming, crying, and having brief moments of overwhelming joy punctuated with dozing, confusion, and people asking you WAY too many questions.


I have said more heartfelt goodbyes than I thought possible, have reinforced the belief that I have exemplary people in my life and am hoping that I will come through the other side soon. I am about to keel over. I am physically achy and my psyche ain’t exactly thrilled either. I have lost the ability to know if I am being kind, nice, or even polite anymore. I hope I am. I would like to continue to have awesome people in my life at the end of this process.

We are down to the last few hours before the management takes possession what was once our home. Nana came down a couple of days ago and the three of us, (along with a very stressed out poodle,) are sitting in an oddly vacant space that seems to echo every breath.

As we linger here amongst the dust bunnies and sadness, I am filled with regret and exhaustion. Looking around all one finds are a trio of air mattresses, tomorrow’s clothes in small knapsacks,  various “Oh shit, we forgot that” mini-piles and two huge trash bags for what we will toss out in the morning realizing that time is no longer short, it’s gone.

It’s not a total loss. One of the perks about having to move out first thing in the morning is getting to eat everything in the fridge and freezer. We are about to explode, but dammit, ALL the Ben & Jerry’s is cleared. It was a tough challenge but I’m pleased to say we rose to the occasion.

I’m not sure if tomorrow is going to be “Day 1,” or, “Day (0). Does it count if the van has to go back in the shop? Is it still “socially acceptable homelessness” if we aren’t living in a camper? Where does the line get drawn?

I’d best get to bed before I get any more maudlin. I must remind myself that whatever happens tomorrow, with or without the van, our adventure begins. It might not be “On The Road” yet, but we will get there. Excelsior!


(Photo credit: Joye Ardyn-Durham.)